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Sports

    A look at what's happening around the majors Saturday: TEXAS ONE-STEP The Astros can clinch a third straight AL West title with a win over the Angels or a loss by Oakland. Houston has won six straight games and is already assured a postseason spot, and it's getting shortstop Carlos Correa in the swing of things at just the right time. Correa homered twice Friday in his second game after missing nearly a month with a sore back, and he finally looks healthy after missing 80 games total with various injuries. 'We can feel it,' second baseman Jose Altuve said. 'We're excited. We all are anxious about things right now which is normal because we want to make it happen.' CENTRAL CONTROL The NL Central-leading Cardinals are sending another red-hot pitcher to the Wrigley Field mound with a chance to ensure a series victory in their crucial four-game set against the Cubs. Right-hander Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35) is 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA in his last seven starts. That's bad news for slumping Chicago, which has totaled nine runs while losing four straight games. St. Louis won the first two games of the series, and its starters have given up two runs in 12 innings — including eight one-run innings from emerging ace Jack Flaherty on Thursday. The Cubs are two games behind Milwaukee for the second NL wild card and five back of St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They will start left-hander Jose Quintana (13-8, 3.35), pitching on an extra day of rest after Chicago shuffled its rotation to let veteran Cole Hamels rest his fatigued left shoulder. The Brewers again face Pittsburgh, with right-hander Zach Davies (10-7, 3.70) facing Pirates rookie righty James Marvel (0-2, 9.00). ON THE LINE Stephen Strasburg tries to strengthen his NL Cy Young Award case and help the Nationals regain their cushion in the wild-card standings with a start against Miami. Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) leads the NL in wins, and his 235 strikeouts trail only Mets ace Jacob deGrom (239), the reigning Cy Young winner who is also Strasburg's stiffest competitor this year, along with teammate Max Scherzer. Washington leads Milwaukee for the top NL wild card by a game, and it's now out of the running for the NL East after Atlanta clinched that title Friday night. LET'S GET WILD The A's remain two games ahead of the Rays and Indians for the top AL wild card and are set to continue a home series against Texas. Cleveland, which got a save from Carlos Carrasco on Friday night, is set to continue a series against Philadelphia, while Tampa Bay will face the Red Sox with right-hander Tyler Glasnow (6-1) making his third start since returning from a right forearm strain. NO CHILL Mets slugger Pete Alonso crushed his major league-leading 50th home run Friday night and is two big swings away from tying Aaron Judge's 2017 total for the rookie record. Alonso has nine games to catch Judge, and the Polar Bear could get there quick after homering in his past three games. He'll face Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93), who has allowed a team-high 28 homers this year. SEPTEMBER SCARE The Yankees are keeping an eye on Gleyber Torres after his right leg buckled while fielding a grounder Friday night. The Yankee Stadium crowd gasped when Torres went down, and the star second baseman was pulled a bit later in New York's 4-3 loss to Toronto. He said he felt some weakness in his lower legs, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he expects Torres to be OK but pulled him as a precaution. Torres leads the AL East champions with 38 homers and is hitting .284 with 94 RBIs and an .889 OPS. STRONG RETURN Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto has thrown 10 scoreless innings since returning from Tommy John surgery, and he may not see Atlanta's best lineup after the Braves clinched a second straight NL East title Friday night. Cueto returned with five innings of one-hit ball against Pittsburgh on Sept. 10, then shut down Miami for five innings on Sept. 15. The 33-year-old is under contract for two more seasons with San Francisco. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Matt Fink decided to stay at Southern California even after finishing third in the Trojans' four-man quarterback competition in training camp last month. A few weeks later, Fink found himself passing for 351 yards, leading a victory over No. 10 Utah at the roaring Coliseum, and sitting between Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart for a postgame interview on national television. Fink didn't give up on his USC dream, and the Trojans are grateful they had such a talented backup to their backup. Michael Pittman Jr. caught 10 passes for a career-high 232 yards and a touchdown from Fink in USC's 30-23 victory over the Utes on Friday night. Fink went 21 of 30 with three touchdown passes for USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) after taking over when freshman Kedon Slovis left with a possible concussion on the second play of the game. Fink mostly looked sharp as the third quarterback to play important snaps in four games for the Trojans, who lost starter J.T. Daniels to a season-ending knee injury in their opener. 'I don't think this moment was too big for me,' Fink said. 'I've been in the era of Sam Darnold, and I've seen things that are much crazier. Getting in today and showing what I can do is what I really wanted to do by staying here.' After barely playing the past two seasons, Fink nearly went to Illinois as a graduate transfer last spring. The Los Angeles-area native instead decided to stay home and wait for a chance, however remote. 'In a world where everybody goes different places, this one stayed for his family, waiting for his moment, waiting for his memory,' USC coach Clay Helton said. 'And what a memory it was tonight. When his number was called, he made the most of it tonight.' Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Pittman all caught TD passes from Fink, while Pittman had the fifth-biggest receiving yardage game in USC history. His remarkable 42-yard catch in the fourth quarter eventually led to a 4-yard TD run by Markese Stepp , who celebrated by handing the ball to Bush, the Trojans great attending the game as a broadcaster despite his NCAA-mandated disassociation from his school. Devontae Henry-Cole rushed for an early touchdown and Cole Fotheringham caught a TD pass for the Utes (3-1, 0-1), who struggled after star running back Zack Moss left in the first half with an apparent shoulder injury. Utah still has never won at the 96-year-old Coliseum. Tyler Huntley passed for 210 yards and ran for 60 more, but the Utes committed 16 penalties for 120 yards and struggled to get key defensive stops against a green Trojans quarterback and his stellar receivers. 'Mostly we had no answer for their receiving corps,' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. 'Michael Pittman did a number on us. We just didn't do a good enough job on him. We've got to rethink some things coaching-wise.' With Bush and Urban Meyer watching at the Coliseum as part of Fox Sports' broadcast crew, USC's roller coaster season went on the upswing again after last week's embarrassing overtime loss at BYU. Slovis had played two encouraging games as the starter after replacing Daniels, but he couldn't continue after 335-pound Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu landed on him. Helton said Slovis 'got dinged,' and the USC medical staff held him out. Fink jumped into USC's Air Raid offense and completed eight of his first nine throws during two game-opening touchdown drives in which he relied heavily on his receivers' playmaking abilities. Pittman then scored on a brilliant 77-yard catch early in the third quarter, snatching a long pass away from defenders and fending them off on his run. UTES UPSET Utah's mistakes weren't limited to penalties. USC blocked a field goal attempt, and the Utes also fumbled near the USC goal line 16 seconds before halftime, when they trailed 14-10 despite racking up 284 yards and controlling the ball for more than 20 minutes. 'We were supposed to take advantage of our chances in the red zone,' said Huntley, who took his first two sacks of the season. 'We all know the plays were there. We just had to make them.' BIG D USC's defense came up big in the second half. Isaiah Pola-Mao's third-down sack from the USC 1 forced Utah to kick a field goal, and Trojans freshman sensation Drake Jackson then got hold of Huntley in the end zone and forced intentional grounding for a safety with 8:51 to play. REGGIE RETURNS Fans around the Fox Sports broadcast stage let loose several chants of 'Reggie! Reggie!' for Bush. The retired tailback is still formally disassociated from USC under terms of the NCAA ruling against the school in 2010, but he remains wildly popular among USC fans and current players whose first Trojans memories include Bush's feats. Meyer is on top of many USC fans' lists of coaches to replace Helton, but the embattled incumbent is off to a fairly strong start. THE TAKEAWAY Utah: Losing Moss is an enormous blow to any offense, and his long-term health could determine the Utes' chances for a run at a second straight Pac-12 title. Utah's inability to finish drives only gets worse with Moss sidelined, and while Huntley's valiant effort might win future games, it wasn't enough against the Trojans. USC: Another quarterback injury wasn't enough to slow down the Trojans, even against a solid Utah defense that essentially wiped out their running game. Fink did enough to win, and USC's defense made several big plays. USC is somehow 3-1 after four games of an extremely difficult six-game start to the season, with Helton finding yet another way to fend off the doubters for another week. UP NEXT Utah: A late-night visit from Washington State and its Air Raid offense next Saturday, Sept. 28. USC: The brutal early schedule continues at defending Pac-12 champion Washington next Saturday, Sept. 28. ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • Hank Bachmeier's arm and poise carried No. 20 Boise State until Robert Mahone took over in the fourth quarter. And the Broncos' defense? It continued to stymie opponents in the second half, even if it finally gave up some points. 'The second half we just went out there and tried to put the game away,' Mahone said. 'It was a close game, but the second half we knew we had to finish and that's what we did.' Bachmeier threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, Mahone rushed for a pair of scores in the fourth quarter, and Boise State pulled away in the second half for a 30-19 win over Air Force on Friday night. Bachmeier's arm made up for a Broncos' running game that was ineffective until the fourth quarter. He hit CT Thomas on a 36-yard touchdown pass in the first half while getting crunched by a defender, and added a 28-yard TD toss to tight end John Bates late in the third quarter to give the Broncos a 17-13 lead. Mahone added a pair of 10-yard TD runs in the fourth as the Broncos (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) won their 20th straight conference opener. Bachmeier was 19 of 26 passing in another impressive performance by the freshman in just his fourth start. 'He came back in the second half even better. He's a strong kid back there in the pocket. He took a couple of licks, but he gets right back up,' Thomas said. Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III had an 8-yard touchdown run in the first half and threw a 31-yard TD to Geraud Sanders late in the fourth quarter. Taven Birdow led Air Force (2-1, 0-1) with 67 yards rushing, but the second-best rushing attack in the country was held to 242 yards, more than 100 yards under its season average. 'They've got a really, really good team,' Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. Bachmeier also got help from his receivers, who made terrific catches. Thomas, who had a career-high 119 yards receiving, made a diving 29-yard catch to set up Eric Sachse's 40-yard field goal in the first half. John Hightower made a juggling reception surrounded by two defenders on a key third-down in the fourth quarter, and Mahone scored on a 10-yard TD run on the next play to give the Broncos a 23-13 lead. 'We knew coming into the game Air Force does a great job being physical,' Thomas said. 'Our mindset was we had to compete for the ball, every ball that comes our way.' Tied 10-10 at halftime, Hammond spent the start of the second half in the injury tent while Isaiah Sanders took over at quarterback. Sanders led the Falcons to a 32-yard field goal by Jake Koehnke midway through the third. It was the first second-half points allowed this season by the Broncos. Bachmeier responded with his best drive of the night, taking the Broncos 77 yards in 11 plays, capped with the TD pass to Bates. The biggest play of the drive was Bachmeier's 13-yard strike to Akilian Bulter on fourth-and-10 at the Air Force 38. Two plays later, Bates was in the end zone and Boise State was ahead for good. Air Force was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Boise State 48 on the next possession and the Broncos answered with the first of Mahone's TD runs. PROTECTING THE FRESHMAN Bachmeier had been hit a lot through the first three games, and continued to get battered in the first half. He was sacked only once in the first half, but took a handful of big hits as protection broke down. His willingness to take a hit, though, can lead to big plays, like the Broncos' first touchdown. Bachmeier allowed Thomas to develop his route and hit the speedy receiver on a 36-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead. 'That's the sign of a good quarterback. ... When you play that position you're going to get hit differently, but you're going to get hit if you're going to stand and deliver it sometimes and those guys have to be able to do that and not flinch and he seems to be able to do that,' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. FINALLY Koehnke's field goal with 6:29 left in the third quarter was the first points scored against Boise State's defense in the second half this season. The Broncos held Florida State, Marshall and Portland State scoreless in the final 30 minutes of the first three games. Boise State went 98 minutes, 31 seconds of combined second-half action before allowing points. THE TAKEAWAY Air Force: The Falcons were unable to keep the momentum from last week's upset win at Colorado and still have not beaten a ranked team on the road since winning at California in 2002. Boise State: It's a result of facing a run-first team, but Boise State nose tackle Sonatane Lui set a career-high with 16 tackles. Lui had eight combined tackles through the first three games. ... Pass rusher Curtis Weaver didn't have a sack after having four last week against Portland State. UP NEXT Air Force: The Falcons return home to host San Jose State next Friday. Boise State: The Broncos have an open weekend and next play at UNLV on Oct. 5. ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • Carlos Correa returned to the dugout after hitting his second homer Friday night, beat his chest and twice repeated the words: 'I'm back.' Houston's star shortstop finally looks healthy after missing 80 games with various injuries this season, great news as the Astros inch closer to the playoffs. 'I feel great,' Correa said. 'It felt great to get the rhythm, timing and today was a positive day. Obviously it gives you a lot of confidence.' Correa homered twice and Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman also connected and the Astros dropped their magic number to clinch the AL West to one by beating the Los Angeles Angels 6-4. A win by the Astros or a loss by the Athletics on Saturday will give Houston a third consecutive division title. The Astros have won six straight games and already secured a playoff spot. 'We can feel it,' Altuve said. 'We're excited. We all are anxious about things right now which is normal because we want to make it happen.' Altuve sent Jaime Barria's fifth pitch into the left field seats to spark a five-run first inning, which also included Bregman's 38th homer and Correa's first connection after missing nearly a month with a sore back — this was his second game since returning. Aledmys Díaz followed Correa with a double and scored on Josh Reddick's single to make it 5-0. 'I couldn't really locate my slider,' Barria said through a translator. 'All of the runs I gave up were with my offspeed that I left up in the zone.' Zack Greinke (17-5) retired his first six batters before Kevan Smith hit his first pitch of the third inning into the bullpen in right-center to cut the lead to 5-1. Correa's second homer came with one out in the bottom of the inning to put Houston up 6-1. Andrelton Simmons hit a two-run single in the fourth and Smith scored him to pull Los Angeles within two. Greinke yielded seven hits and four runs in five innings to win his third straight decision. Greinke has won seven of eight decisions since a trade from Arizona on July 31. He didn't walk anyone for the fourth straight start, which is the longest streak of his career. Roberto Osuna allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth for his 36th save. Barria (4-10) allowed eight hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings to drop his seventh straight decision. Altuve's home run was his 30th this season and gives the Astros four players with at least 30 for the first time. Along with Altuve and Bregman, George Springer (35) and Yuli Gurriel (30) have also reached the mark. Bregman's 38 homers are the most by an Astro since Lance Berkman hit 45 in 2006. TRAINER'S ROOM Angels: OF Mike Trout had surgery to remove a growth from his right foot Friday in California, and manager Brad Ausmus said he texted with him and that he was feeling good. Trout last played Sept. 7 and the team announced that his season would end early because of the problem with his foot. Astros: All-Star reliever Ryan Pressly was activated from the injured list Friday after missing a month after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Pressly struck out two in a scoreless seventh. ... Gurriel was out of the lineup on Friday because of a stomach ailment. LANGSTON HOSPITALIZED Angels radio broadcaster Mark Langston had a medical emergency Friday night and was taken to a hospital where he was alert and undergoing testing. The 59-year-old Langston pitched in the majors for 16 seasons, including eight for the Angels. THEY SAID IT Altuve on hitting 30 home runs for the first time in his career: 'I always wanted to hit 30 homers. I always said it before. A lot of people didn't think I could play in the big leagues. They kept telling me: 'No, no,' and then all of a sudden I hit 30 homers, so that's pretty good.' UP NEXT Angels: LHP Patrick Sandoval (0-3, 4.91 ERA) will start for Los Angeles on Saturday night. Sandoval allowed two hits and one run in four innings but did not factor in the decision in a 6-4 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. Astros: LHP Wade Miley (14-5, 3.71) is scheduled to start for Houston on Saturday. Miley yielded seven hits and two runs in six innings for a win against Kansas City in his last start. ___ More AP MLB coverage: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Pete Alonso felt going into the season that reaching 50 home runs was possible. Now that he's there, it's become hard to believe. New York's rookie first baseman hit his major league-leading 50th home run, Jacob deGrom pitched shutout ball for seven innings and the Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 Friday night. 'It was always in the realm of possibility,' Alonso said. 'It's hard to wrap my mind around it. It means the world to me, but I don't think I'll be able to appreciate it until after the season.' Amed Rosario hit a two-run homer and Jeff McNeil added a solo shot for the Mets, who remained 3 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for the second NL wild card after the Brewers beat the Pirates 10-1. Cincinnati is 72-82, assuring itself a sixth straight losing season and 16th in 19 seasons. Alonso is two homers shy of Yankees star Aaron Judge's 2017 total for the rookie record. The right-handed hitter connected on a two-run blast in the eighth inning against reliever Sal Romano, reaching for a down-and-away fastball and lining it an estimated 437 feet to the faux riverboat smokestacks in right-center field. 'The catcher reached down and to the right and he reached out and flicked it to the steam towers,' New York manager Mickey Callaway said. 'It was a well-executed pitch. I don't know what you do if you're a pitcher. (Former Red) Todd Frazier said he's never seen a left-hander hit one there.' Alonso is the second rookie to reach 50 homers, and he leads Cincinnati's Eugenio Suarez by two for most in the majors. The Reds intentionally walked Alonso during New York's three-run ninth. Cincinnati rookie Aristides Aquino led off the ninth with a homer. The midseason call-up has 17 home runs in 49 games this season. DeGrom (10-8) struck out nine and didn't walk anybody to match his win total from last season, when he won the NL Cy Young Award. He could be a repeat winner after dropping his ERA to 2.51. 'I've been able to locate all my pitches and throw them when I want,' deGrom said. 'Having the feel of my curve and changeup and moving the fastball in and our helps keep them off balance. McNeil broke up the scoreless tie with his 23rd homer, a towering drive into the visitors' bullpen down the right field line with one out in the sixth inning. Rosario followed J.D. Davis's two-out walk with a two-run shot to left-center field, his 14th homer. Those were two of the three hits allowed by Luis Castillo in seven innings. Castillo (15-7) struck out seven and walked three. 'We got to see first-hand why deGrom is so good,' Reds manager David Bell said .'I saw really sharp stuff. He had it all going. I saw the same thing with Castillo. He was really good. You can't do much better than that. You'd like to have those two pitches back, but he was really good.' SEVENS ARE WILD The start was deGrom's seventh straight and 11th in his last 12 in which he logged exactly seven innings. MINGLING Marty Brennaman, retiring this year after 46 seasons as a Reds broadcaster, and partner Jeff Brantley broadcast the game from a special booth built near a section of lower-level seats. LORENZEN'S CLEMENTE Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen was honored before the game as the Reds nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. Lorenzen, who also plays outfield, wears No. 21 in honor of Clemente. MOVING UP Castillo's seven strikeouts boosted his season total to 218, good for a tie with Aaron Harag in 2007 for ninth on the franchise's single-season strikeout list. Tom Seaver is eighth with 226 in 1978. TRAINER'S ROOM Mets: RHP Robert Gsellman's bullpen session went 'extremely well,' Callaway said. A Saturday evaluation will determine whether the next step is pitching live batting practice. Gsellman has been out since August 14 with right triceps tightness. Reds: Manager David Bell considers the return of OF Jesse Winker (cervical strain) this season 'highly unlikely.' Winker has been sidelined since August 22. UP NEXT Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler (11-7) is 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA over his last 10 starts. New York is 7-3 in those games. Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafani (9-9) is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in four career starts against the Mets. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Immaculate indeed. Pittsburgh running back Franco Harris' scoop of a deflected pass and subsequent run for the winning touchdown in a 1972 playoff victory against Oakland — forever known as the 'Immaculate Reception' — has been voted the greatest play in NFL history. A nationwide panel of 68 media members chose the Immaculate Reception as the top play with 3,270 points and 39 first-place votes. Second in the balloting was Dwight Clark's TD catch from Joe Montana that lifted San Francisco past Dallas to win the 1981 NFC championship. Harris' spectacular play not only lifted the Steelers to their first-ever playoff victory, it was the catalyst for the Steel Curtain dynasty that would win four Super Bowls from the 1974 through the 1979 seasons. 'That play really represents our teams of the '70s,' Harris said. With 22 seconds remaining in the first-round matchup, and the ball at the Steelers 40-yard line, quarterback Terry Bradshaw scrambled under heavy pressure on fourth down. He heaved the ball downfield toward running back Frenchy Fuqua, and Raiders safety Jack 'The Assassin' Tatum arrived at the same time. The ball ricocheted wildly toward Harris near the left sideline. Before it hit the turf, he bent deeply and grabbed it before heading to the end zone. Game officials weren't sure who deflected the pass; had it gone off Fuqua, rules of the day would make it an incompletion. Referee Fred Swearingen, after consulting with NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally, ruled a touchdown. Pittsburgh kicked the extra point for a 13-7 lead with 5 seconds remaining and won a playoff game for the first time in franchise history. 'There are moments in life where you know what you're doing,' Harris said. 'Me and Frenchy, we had no idea what we were doing.' Neither did Steelers owner Art Rooney. Known as 'Chief,' Rooney had abandoned his seat and took the elevator to the locker room to be with his team after another postseason defeat. Chief didn't see the greatest play in franchise (and league) history pulled off. His son, Dan, who would take over administration of the team — and created the Rooney Rule for diversity in NFL job interviews — stayed upstairs and witnessed the drama as Swearingen and McNally spoke on the phone. After Swearingen raised both arms to signal touchdown, and the Raiders could do nothing with the ensuing kickoff, Rooney at last felt relief. 'After that, I loafed around the press box. After a while, I went out and down to the dressing room. Everybody was on Cloud 9, cheering each other, all excited,' he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2012. 'It may have been the most exciting game I had seen up until that time.' Clearly, the voting panel found the Immaculate Reception as a runaway for best play as part of the NFL's celebration of its 100th season. Montana to Clark, known as 'The Catch,' received 3,099 points but only four first-place selections. The runner-up in first-place votes was David Tyree's 'Helmet Catch' for the Giants as they rallied to beat the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl. Harris' catch eventually led to a rules change, too, with offensive players consecutively touching a pass being permitted. That eased officiating decisions on deflected balls, of course. But it didn't ease the angst felt by Tatum or his coach, John Madden — like Harris and Bradshaw, a Pro Football Hall of Famer. 'Here was my point,' Madden told the CBS affiliate in San Francisco in 2012. 'They didn't call it a touchdown. And they were standing in the end zone, the officials, and discussing the play. ... They talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, and still haven't said it's a touchdown. ... This goes on 15 minutes. 'If you knew it was a touchdown, you should have called it. If you didn't call it, you didn't know it was a touchdown. If you didn't know it was a touchdown, how did you decide that it was? That's all.' ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Freddie Freeman didn't care that his eyes kept tearing up from all the beer and champagne soakings. It seemed like every teammate stopped by to blast him, and he loved every minute of it. 'This is the first step of hopefully a few celebrations to come,' he said with a big, wet smile. 'We're excited. We've got a really good ballclub. We're just getting started.' The Atlanta Braves clinched their second straight NL East title as Ronald Acuña Jr. hit his 41st homer in a 6-0 win over San Francisco on Friday night that eliminated the Giants from postseason contention in Bruce Bochy's last year as manager. Acuña scored three runs to back Mike Foltynewicz (8-5), who allowed three hits in eight innings. Atlanta's 19th division title tied the New York Yankees for the most since Major League Baseball split into divisions for the 1969 season. Atlanta's win ensured it will finish ahead of second-place Washington and will start the NL Division Series at home on Oct. 3, most likely against the NL Central champion. Braves players ran onto the infield to celebrate as soon as Acuña caught Alex Dickerson's game-ending flyout. Atlanta (95-60) moved into sole possession of first place for good on June 12. Led by Acuña, Freeman, Josh Donaldson and an offense that has produced a franchise-best 241 homers, its lead swelled from 5½ to 10 games in six days ending with a 9-4 home win over Washington on Sept. 7. 'Last year I kept running around with blinders on wondering if we were good enough to pull it off,' Braves manager Brian Snitker said. 'This year, as went, it was like we're pretty good. Nobody gave us a chance early, and it was good to see these guys get on a roll. Just took care of business, winning a lot of first games and winning a lot of series. That was big.' The Braves, who have not won a postseason series since 2001, secured a postseason berth last week and needed a few extra days to clinch the division. They lost three in a row for the first time since July 16-18 but have won two straight. Bochy was given a standing ovation when a video tribute was played before the second inning. The 64-year-old is retiring after 25 seasons as a major league manager, including 13 years in San Francisco highlighted by three World Series titles. He managed his 2,000th regular season win this week. The Braves remind Bochy of some of his better clubs. 'They have such a good lineup,' he said. 'They've got speed, they've got youth, they've got experience. They've had a heck of a year. Congrats to them for clinching tonight.' Foltynewicz, who also won last year's clincher in Game No. 155, is 4-0 with an 0.69 ERA in four starts this month. He has won seven straight decisions in a span interrupted by a six-start demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, but the Braves have won his last 12 starts, the longest streak in the majors this year. Josh Tomlin finished a four-hitter. Freeman's sacrifice fly in the first and Ozzie Albies' RBI single in the second built a lead. Acuña hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Brian McCann added a two-run homer in the sixth off Tyler Beede (5-10), who allowed seven hits in six innings. Acuña has been a catalyst the last two nights. 'This kid is liable to go off for the next two weeks and be in a really good place when we start the playoffs,' Snitker said. 'You can kind of see the evidence of that tonight.' Mike Yastrzemski had all three hits for the Giants (74-80). Acuña, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year became the 14th-youngest player reach 100 RBIs in a season at 21 years, 276 days. On Thursday he joined Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews as the only players to hit 40 homers prior to their 22nd birthday. Acuña has 126 runs and needs six to break Dale Murphy's franchise season record, set in 1983. 'In my opinion, he's probably going to be the best player in the game, if not now, in a couple of years,' Freeman said. UP NEXT Giants: RHP Johnny Cueto (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his third start Saturday since Tommy John surgery. Braves: LHP Max Fried (16-6, 4.25 ERA) has allowed 21 earned runs over 23 1/3 innings in his last three starts. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Russian anti-doping agency could face suspension again based on information indicating data from the Moscow drug-testing lab had been manipulated before being delivered to the World Anti-Doping Agency earlier this year, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press. WADA reinstated Russia's anti-doping agency (RUSADA) after gaining access to long-sought-after data that was to be used to confirm doping positives stemming from the country's plans to cheat so athletes could win medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and other events. Handing over the data was among the critical requirements for the reinstatement, and WADA extended a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline by more than two weeks, then deemed its negotiations a success when it received the data. But eight months later, and with the Tokyo Olympics less than a year away, there is a report indicating the data might have been manipulated before it was handed over, according the person familiar with the report, who spoke to AP but requested anonymity because the report had not been made public. WADA's compliance review committee is expected to present the information to the agency's executive committee, which meets Monday in Tokyo. Track and field's governing body, the IAAF, and the organization that handles its doping cases, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), are also expected to review the information while in Doha, Qatar, next week for track world championships. The IAAF will receive a report — one that could include this information — from a task force that has upheld the Russian track team's suspension from international competition 11 times since its federation was first banned in June 2016. Worlds start next Friday, and at least 29 Russians are slated to compete as neutral athletes. A RUSADA on solid footing was thought to be a cornerstone requirement for Russia's return to the international sports world after a scandal that sullied two Olympics, along with the reputations of both WADA and the International Olympic Committee, which critics — especially in the West — deemed as going too soft on the Russians. This latest news could lead to RUSADA again being deemed noncompliant, though the long-term repercussions of such a move are hard to gauge, especially with the IOC having placed Russia's Olympic committee back in good standing after the Pyeongchang Olympics last year. One theory is that because the revamped and reinstated RUSADA has been meeting testing benchmarks set for it by WADA, and because it didn't have anything to do with the manipulation of the data, it could have a good chance of winning a case in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. If manipulation is proven, WADA would also have to decide whether it could win cases against Russians with data that is now unreliable. The samples the doping Russian athletes provided to testers aren't enough to convict in most cases because their drug-tainted urine was replaced by clean samples. That's why the Moscow lab data was considered critical to prosecuting the cases. WADA has been handing over most of the evidence to international sports federations. WADA president Craig Reedie recently said he expected around 100 new Russian cases to be brought. ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-Sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals are taking charge of the NL Central by grinding out tough, ugly wins. And bouncing back after absorbing some unpleasant blows. Molina overcame a painful foul tip to get three of St. Louis' four hits, including a two-run single, and the Cardinals held off the fading Chicago Cubs 2-1 on Friday. 'We're playing good baseball right now,' Molina said. 'We can get a little better doing the little things, but we're winning games. That's all that matters right now.' Carlos Martínez got the final two outs a day after a brutal blown save, and the Cardinals maintained a three-game NL Central lead over Milwaukee while opening a five-game margin over Chicago. The Cubs dropped two games behind the Brewers for the second NL wild card with eight games left. Chicago has totaled nine runs while losing four straight games. The Cardinals have won the first two games of this key four-game set, and they'll play the Cubs five more times over their final eight games. The Cubs scored their run following a St. Louis error in the second inning, and the Cardinals rallied in the sixth. David Phelps (2-1), the second of eight Cubs relievers, walked Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna to start the inning. Steve Cishek took over and walked Matt Carpenter to load the bases before Molina grounded a 2-2 pitch up the middle. 'I pride myself on being able to command the baseball,' Phelps said. 'Going out and doing that is embarrassing.' Molina came through after being hit in the groin by Jason Heyward's foul tip in the fourth inning. The veteran catcher stayed on the ground for a couple of minutes to regroup. 'When you get hit ... it's going to take a while,' Molina said. 'So I just wanted to be part of this game. I just want to be there for the team.' Last year, Molina needed surgery and missed a month following a similar foul tip. 'That's the toughest, smartest guy I may ever know,' Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. It was another narrow victory for St. Louis. The Cardinals won 5-4 in 10 innings Thursday night when Carpenter homered off All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. Chicago had rallied with three runs in the ninth against Martínez and Andrew Miller. Miller pitched the eighth inning Friday and got the first out in the ninth before Shildt went to Martínez. The right-hander got a popup, walked pinch-hitter Tony Kemp and then got Ben Zobrist to ground out to complete his 22nd save. Shildt had no qualms about letting Martínez finish this one. 'No question about it,' Shildt said. 'He came in the clubhouse and said, 'I got two (innings) in me today.'' Michael Wacha pitched four innings of one-run ball for St. Louis, and five relievers shut down Chicago after that. Ryan Helsley (2-0) pitched a scoreless fifth for the win. The Cardinals left 12 on base. Chicago stranded nine runners and hit into three double plays. Manager Joe Maddon and his players have no explanation for the team's slump, which comes on the heels of a five-game winning streak when the Cubs outscored opponents 59-18. 'We have to somehow get more consistent offensively,' Maddon said. 'When the opportunities come up, we have to take advantage of them. We've had some good at-bats.' Chicago went up 1-0 after Kyle Schwarber doubled in the second and scored from third when second baseman Tommy Edman bobbled David Bote's grounder. Bote was awarded an RBI because it was ruled that Schwarber would have scored regardless. Alec Mills pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the Cubs, but the bullpen issued seven walks and couldn't hold the 1-0 lead. Mills allowed two hits and struck out six. RIZZO'S RAPID RETURN Anthony Rizzo batted leadoff and played first base for the second straight day after an unexpected return Thursday from a sprained right ankle. He had a single and a walk in three plate appearances before being replaced in a double switch in the sixth. TRAINER'S ROOM Cardinals: 2B Kolten Wong was scheduled to have an MRI on his injured left hamstring after leaving Thursday's game in the fifth inning. Shildt didn't have results before Friday's game. Cubs: RHP Brandon Kintzler (strained left oblique) said he felt good and was ready to return after being inspired by Rizzo. Kintzler last pitched Sept. 10 at San Diego. UP NEXT Cardinals RHP Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35) takes the mound against Cubs LHP Jose Quintana (13-8, 3.35) on Saturday. Hudson is 6-1 in his last seven starts with a 1.59 ERA. Quintana has an 11.32 ERA in his last three starts and has failed to get past the third inning in his last two. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • When a 19-year-old rookie paces the field at an unfamiliar and technically demanding race track, it catches the attention of veterans who wonder if the kid is fearless or foolish whipping around historic Laguna Seca Raceway. Will Power went with 'definitely brave' in describing Colton Herta's successful first day hurtling through 11 fast corners of the 2.258-mile road course. Then came Day 2. Herta again paced the field in Friday's first practice session, but the bravery that was so heralded a day earlier caught up with him. Herta went off the track three times, including a session-ending spin. 'I was definitely pushing to the limit of what I had yesterday, and that's what I was doing all three times, and the third time kind of ended the session for me and everyone else,' Herta said. Either way, Herta and fellow rookie of the year contenders Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci were the top three on the speed chart during the first practice session for Sunday's season-ending and championship-deciding race. The practice was problematic for Alexander Rossi, second in the points standings behind Josef Newgarden, because his car had a 'hardware problem.' It required Rossi to get out of his car so his Andretti Autosport team could access the issue. Rossi wound up with just four laps completed in the session and sported his 'Angry Alex' scowl as he climbed atop the timing stand to debrief. He is 41 points behind leader Newgarden headed into a race worth double points as IndyCar decides its champion in the finale for the 14th consecutive year. It didn't get much better for Rossi in the second session, as he was 23rd of 24 cars with the caveat that he didn't turn any laps on the faster set of tires. Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest of the session, and followed the rookie contenders. Rosenqvist was second, Herta third without incident and Ferrucci fifth. Rossi finally rebounded in the final Friday practice session, when he shot to the top of the board. But he's got his work cut out for him as Newgarden was consistent in every session and needs only to finish fourth Sunday to win his second title in three years. 'We've got a really good team here and a lot of guys who have been through worse scenarios,' said Rossi, who said the hardware issue was a broken bolt. 'It's a setback, but we'll do the best we can with the rest of the time we have.' A tight championship battle, an impressive rookie class, improved television ratings and major advancements in safety and technology on the horizon were among the highlights touted Friday by IndyCar leadership. 'We believe IndyCar is the most compelling form of motorsport on the planet, and I think that's more true, more defensible every year,' series CEO Mark Miles said. 'We just keep getting better, the racing improves, it's more competitive, and it's all done while being very attentive to managing costs for the teams. I'm also delighted to say that in almost every metric, our marketing and promotional and commercial initiatives are growing the sport and ultimately attracting more fans.' IndyCar this year had just one broadcast partner, NBC Sports Group, which helped its continued renaissance. While nowhere near its heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s, the series has gained stability that is being openly celebrated this weekend in the long-awaited return to Laguna Seca. The track was one of the most popular on the circuit until it was dropped after the 2004 race. But there's a boost in energy over what is still to come for the series, and that includes McLaren's participation next season, a windscreen that will protect the cockpit beginning next year and a hybrid system that will be implemented when the new engine formula is introduced in 2022. IndyCar wants less downforce by 2022 and is aiming for over 900 horsepower. 'It's very important that we remain true to our DNA, and our DNA is fast, loud, authentic and unapologetic,' said Jay Frye, president of IndyCar. The 'Aeroscreen' project currently underway to protect the drivers' heads in the open cockpits is receiving the most attention as IndyCar aims for improved safety. The push has been on for years but has been slow in development, even after Justin Wilson's death in 2015 when he was hit in the head by a piece of debris. 'There has been no stone unturned on this program, this project, from driver cooling, driver expectation, clarity, glare, impact,' Frye said. 'We believe this is an industry-changing total safety solution for driver cockpit protection. We're very excited to get it on the track because we always say the data doesn't drive, drivers drive, so the next step in the process is to get it on track and see where we're at.' The aeroscreen will be tested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 2, then at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and Richmond Raceway. 'It's a very aggressive schedule, but the ball is in motion for a 2020 implementation,' Frye said. ___ More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports